Sunday 30 November 2008

A day at the races; I love horsepower!

What's the bet that you've never been to watch horseracing? At our Adventure Club evening this past week I asked the assembled group of people - about 40 of them in their mid-20's to upper 40's - whether they'd been to the races. Guess what? Not one put up their hand. Well, I have now been to the races; and I loved it.

The company that I'm now working for, Penquin International, is involved in the hospitality aspect of the Steinhoff Summer Cup, a horseracing event that has taken place annually for one-hundred-and-twenty-one years! It began in the 1880's on a farm named Turffontein, when Joburg was a dusty mining settlement. Penquin's objective is to turn Summer Cup, which had no formal social/hospitality elements, into Joburg's own "Durban July" over the next few years.

I arrived just before the first race, choosing to stand in front of the main grandstand right near the finish. What excitement! People were still arriving, so it was not yet very packed; yet a roar could be heard from the spectators willing their horse to be first across the line. The vibe was divine.

I was waiting for three Adventure Racing Club people to pass on tickets. I met with Gideon, Glen and Mish; and we headed for the totes. With some assistance from a chap in the queue, I got it right to select the "Place" option, as opposed to Trifecta, Pick 6 and a handful of others, which I didn't understand. Although my horse looked good on paper, it was last (or second last). That was ten bucks gone. Time to bet again.

We had tickets for the Fashion TV marquee, which was closer to the start of the straight, a distance from the finish. Inside were betting stations and tvs. We would bet, sit for a drink, watch the weird outfits walking past and then go outside to see the horses thundering down the straight.

Wow! The grass at Turffontien is lush, thick and emerald. And from a distance (a full straight can be as much as 1200m! Coming around the corner they get almost a kilometer of straight-line distance) you see the brown horses and their colourful jockeys. They race past at an unbelievable speed. I thought Formula One cars were impressive; but seeing those horses... it must be an incredible rush to be moving that fast on a horse.

I made most of my bets based on the riders, especially for the International Jockey Challenge races (4 of the 10 races on the day). Bad move. I lost all my bets, except one race where my horse placed 3rd. I had bet R10; and I won R32. I left just after Race 6 and then followed the last 2 races online at home.

After reading the beginner's guide to horseracing, "how to bet" and the racecard for the day on Tab's website - with general information on the horse - I picked my favourites. If I'd bet on them I would have won because they placed 2nd and 4th (if there are 16 or more horses in a race they pay up to 4th place).

As a comment on hospitality... when we were walking out, a race came through. By then we were standing in front of the grandstand, facing the finish. What an amazing roar from the crowd, which had now packed all the seats. It was just so exciting, even though none of us had any bets in this race.

Inside the Fashion TV marquee the atmosphere was sophisticated but lacked passion and excitement. I saw a girl from the office and asked whether she'd placed a bet yet. She hadn't - and there were only 4 races to go. Actually, most of the people were not even watching the televisions.

My advice: iIf you go to the race, get seats in the grandstand with all and sundry; this is where the spirit of the races resides. You also get good views of the straight and the place where they show off the horses before they race so you can see how they're looking. The marquees are great for the post-racing parties - only (unless you're just at the races to hang with the fashionable).

I thoroughly enjoyed my first day at the races and I'll definitely go back to shout and cheer with everyone else. And perhaps with a little more experience I'll stop backing horses with nice names ridden by cute riders - a technique that really didn't work for me...

Sunday 23 November 2008

Adidas Response Trail 15: back to its origins

I bought my first pair of Adidas Response Trail shoes in late 2000; I think is was Response TR6 - the navy model with metal eyelets. My team mate Pieter du Plessis wore them too. I then worked my way through every new Adidas Response TR model over the next seven years; sometimes slaughtering 3 pairs a year!

Adidas Response TR8 was once of my favourites; it was the model just before Adidas brought in their sewn-in tongue, which was a nightmare on feet swollen after days of running or adventure racing. The TR9 had the sewn-in tongue; and again in the TR10, but not as tight due to an alteration in the stitching position. In the TR10 (or 11) they started messing with the last, changing the shoe's fit. And I think it was around TR12 or TR13 that they lost me. Too many changes from the shape that I'd loved for years.

I used to fire off emails to Adidas, especially when the TR9 first came in. Hahaha.

For the past year-and-a half I've been wearing in the Adidas Adistar Trail and Adidas Supernova Trail models.

The first Adistar version was divine; I wore it for just over a year, including the 5-day Himalayan ultra, all orienteering events, Mnweni, most of the Estonia rogaine, race scouting and organising for Swazi... and others I've forgotten about. A feature I really liked was the Formotion plate in the heel; it works really well on steep downhill sections to cushion the impact - it saved my calves and heels in India. Their life was spent after Estonia and they were retired.

I got a pair of the new Adistar Trail shoes (renamed Adidas Adistar Revolt) a few months ago. Although the fit was the same - nice and snug, especially around the mid-foot - something was different, aside from the heel structure. In this version they changed the Formotion plate to be laterally positioned, instead of horizontally at the rear of the shoe. Mmm... didn't have the same effect. And I still can't pin-point what it is about the fit that is so different and not quite right. I've had some rubbing on the outside of my big toes, and I'm not sure why. I didn't experience this with the previous version - in fact, the first version could have been made from a mould of my foot it was so perfect.

As for the Adidas Supernova Trail; fit was good but the laces bothered me - too rounded and rope like. I changed them, and this drastically improved the shoe's comfort. They're a little less snug and narrow than the Adistar Trail, with a dash more width and cushioning. A good and comfortable shoe.

Following my recent house break-in, where they stole all my road and trail shoes (lots of them!) I had to head for the shops to get new shoes, especially with the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge coming up in three weeks. I settled on the Adidas Response Trail 15; I took them to the Uge 65km yesterday - I hadn't worn them before the race, except for wearing them at home to get a feel for the fit.

I'm delighted to announce that this TR15 model is a return to the Adidas Response's origins - and improved, in a good way.

The heel includes the Formotion plate that I so liked in the first Adistar Trail model. The fit of the Response Trail 15 is wider than the Adistar and Supernova, especially in the forefoot and toe box, and you can immediately feel that the sole is softer. Although this means that you don't necessarily have the longevity and durability of the Adistar sole (especially if the shoe is wet for days on end), it does make for a very cushioned ride, especially on hard terrain.

Overall, 8hrs of racing yesterday and not a hot spot or blister; and no more rubbing on the outside of my big toes. I'm relieved and feeling confident with my footwear going into Abu Dhabi.
Adidas Response Trail 15's are currently in-store. You'll find them at Adidas Concept Stores and other off-road shoe retailers. They sell for R899.00.

Sunday 16 November 2008

Hangin' up my RW Gear Editor hat

In June 2007 I took on the role of Gear Editor for Runner's World SA magazine; my first column was published in the August 2007 issue. Eighteen columns and months and a new day-job (started 2 weeks ago) later, I'm hanging up my Gear Editor hat; I no longer have the necessary time to assemble the monthly 3-16 page product features.

Writing product reviews is great fun but it requires a lot of admin; emails to suppliers; gathering appropriate products for the gear theme; whittling down the number of items according to the page count available; trying everything on or pushing its buttons, sniffing the scent, feeling the fabrics; and then writing an eloquent but informative comment on the item within a strict word count. Then I drop the products off with the photographer, submit my column, fetch the products, contact each supplier to send their courier and then it starts all over again.

For reference; it usually takes an hour (or more) to write one shoe review! That excludes the tame taken to open boxes, sort the shoes and select a few in line with my available page count.

In August I wrote 53 shoe reviews for Runner's World (Spring Shoe Guide, Sept08; Trail Shoe guide, Nov 2008) and Men's Health Buyer's Guide (Dec08) and I've just handed in the Summer Shoe guide (16 shoes, Jan09).

Despite the admin, the role has many pleasures. I've been able to see and try products months before they hit the shelves (that is a kick in itself); I've enjoyed good relations with many of my product suppliers - although I've met very few in person; and I still delight in seeing the final printed product after the layout whizzes (Fran initially and now Mark) at Runner's World have transformed plain text into a decorative multi-page spread. And even more pleasing is when strangers have approached me at events to chat about a product I've reviewed. It's really rewarding to discover that people actually read the columns - and find them useful!

And no, I don't get to keep all the products. Occasionally I do get cool stuff, but for the most part it all goes back. There is a limit to how much stuff one can use. People coming through to AR Club have occasionally been lucky recipients of freebies.

Mike Finch, Editor of Runner's World, gave me absolute freedom in choosing themes and compiling the content. I only needed to toss ideas his way for confirmation on space and timings. And the only time Mike stresses is when we get to mid-month and he hasn't seen my column. Luckily this happened infrequently (and mid-month is early anyway - so there was plenty time left over). Hahaha.

I love writing for Runner's World and I will continue to contribute odd articles here and there; I'm just unable to commit to the hours required for assembling the gear sections. The magazine has really gone from strength to strength in layout and content, especially over the past 2.5 years. Get a copy if you haven't seen it recently. It has great content to inspire beginner, serious and lapsed runners.

Saying farewell to this column is saddening; it feels like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend who has been with me constantly. But, it is a semi-farewell because I know I won't be away from the mgazine for too long, certainly on an occasional freelance basis.

Mike - thank you for giving me the opportunity to turn this section into my own. It's been an exciting and rewarding ride.

It's just stuff

My home was burgled while we were having fun in the sun at the rogaine at the beginning of this month. Their shopping list evidently included electronics, jewellery and clothing. I'm most heartsore about the theft of my beloved Canon 400D camera (they took my whole camera bag!), my external harddrive with about 15 years of photos, old university projects, various versions of (they didn't take the USB nor power cables!) and all of my road and trail shoes.

These fiends got over the electric fencing around the perimeter of the property, broke into the house and my cottage, setting off the armed response alerts. The armed security dudes came, shone their torches and said that the perimeter was intact. They did this twice in response to the separate alerts. Of interest, the house and cottage alarms are only triggered when a) the doors are opened or b) when movement is detected by the motion sensors. So, the thieves would have to be INSIDE, not OUTSIDE, for the alarms to go off.

The security guards were instructed to get on to the property, but they said, "We can't get in because of the fencing". Well, the thieves got in easily enough, sheltered by the noise and distraction of the storm. They knew it was likely that the thieves were on the property, sitting in our homes and going through every drawer, cupboard and box. Why didn't the security guys call the cops and hide around the corner, waiting for the bad guys to emerge (which they did with my neighbour's car loaded full of our things)? And, considering that the security company (Baron) was the only one that knew no-one would be on the property that weekend... Yes, one plus one does equal two.

Aside from the financial repercussions of replacing the stolen goods and the psychological violation, I keep reminding myself that it is just stuff that was taken. Material possessions. And, to echo a familiar South Africanism, "at least I wasn't there". Unfortunately not one finger print was found anywhere; they wore gloves.

In considering this "stuff", I was reminded by an article I read online some months ago on Time Magazine's website, "How to live with just 100 things". I'm a bit of a minimalist myself, keeping things mainly for their practical function and passing on items I no longer use. I can be quite ruthless, even with sentimental items. But I already exceed this 100 quota in books alone (or do "books" count as one category of things?)! And if you have sporting involvements, like adventure racing, then your toy count (drybags, backpacks, trekking poles, biking gear etc) takes up the 100 count on its own.

Moving is a great opportunity to cleanse. When I moved into my new place in August, I gave away a lot of stuff I no longer used or needed. I have a big, naked, open-plan kitchen and lounge area. My mom has visions of this empty space being filled by a table. My dad thought a kind of divider would be nice to take up the open volume. Not a chance, I like the emptiness and it is going to stay this way.

There's actually a "100 Thing Challenge, a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items".

Decluttering; that's what this is all about. Things can also keep you stuck in the past; you may never again fit into those size 32 pants you bought 10 years ago - but if you do make it back into a size 32, buy a new pair as a reward. And no, you won't maybe need those glass bottles one day when you finally get around to making your own preserves. Recycle the glass now and collect more bottles when you need them.

Decluttering is cleansing and calming. To help you get started read this piece on Ask the experts: 5 steps to clutter-free living.

And lastly, a note to my burglars, who have my cell phone number (a dude phoned from Beira, Mocambique this past Tuesday to say he'd "found" my storage - the line dropped and he hasn't called back) and goodness knows what other information... I have worked damn hard to get many of the things you took; they were important to me. And some of the things were not mine! It took me three years to get that camera and in stealing my harddrive you've taken much of my history! Perhaps money grows on trees for you, but it doesn't for me nor the other people you take things from. I do firmly believe what goes around, comes around. And your time will come; whether through illness or "bad luck" what you have done to others will be done to you. Yes, this is a curse and you will get a hiding one way or another for your bad deeds.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Cadence training; audio-enhanced running

I became interested in cadence training last year, while I was writing a gear section for Runner's World SA on MP3 units for runners (November 2007 issue). I spent hours (days actually) surfing websites related to cadence training, learning about the benefits of running to properly paced music.

The following is an extract from my column "Plugged in":

"Music can have a profound effect on runners and their running performance. Motivating tunes offer a welcome distraction from fatigue, and provide a point of focus for dull indoor sessions. Chariots of Fire is played to inspire and stimulate runners at the start of Comrades; Brahms’ Lullaby would calm your nerves. But more important than melody is the beat, and how closely it matches your running cadence.

If you’ve spent any time in a gym, you’ve probably experienced a running 'sweet spot' – a period of other-worldly enlightenment – where your cadence (steps-perminute or SPM) is perfectly matched to the beat of the music floating across from a nearby spinning class. Buoyed by the rhythm, you feel as if you could run forever. This, dear runners, is what happens when the beat of the music matches your footfall rate. And when it doesn’t? You’ll feel out of sync, but possibly be unsure why, especially if your favourite tune is letting you down.

Get a beat boost

Two factors that directly affect your speed are stride length and rate. Stride length is related to leg muscle strength and can be improved through hill and resistance training. Stride rate refers to the number of times your feet touch the ground in one minute (see MATCH YOUR MUSIC, below). It takes focussed effort to increase your stride rate, and a few weeks to adapt aerobically to this higher turnover. Although some wrist units, like the Polar RS800, measure cadence, you can keep it simple by using music as a pacing tool; run in time to the beat and achieve higher cadence sessions within training runs."

What's my cadence?

"Running cadence is the measure of how many foot-strikes either the right or left foot makes in one minute. Steps-per-minute (SPM) is the count for every foot strike (left and right).

After a warm-up on a normal training run, count the number of times your right or left foot strikes the ground in one minute. Do this four times to find an average, as uphills will slow your cadence, while downhills will increase it. If your cadence is 80, then your SPM will be 160 (i.e. double). Consequently, music with beats-per-minute (BPM) closest to 160 would best match your stride rate. Tunes at 80bpm are also suitable; you'd just have two foot falls per beat.

Cadence of 80–85 is average, while 85–95 is good. Elite athletes run at a cadence of 95 or more."

While watching the major marathons it is fun to count the cadence of the top runners. It is usually in the low to mid 90's, increasing into the low 100's in the final kilometres. Of interest, I counted Bekele's 10 000m World Record track run at around 116 cadence on the last few laps!

How do you measure the beat of music?
Search online for "beat counter" and you'll find many options. Some websites have an online Java coded beat counter. Play your music and press any keyboard key in time with the beat. The beat is displayed on the screen. I prefer this little downloadable application (ARBPM). Download, extract from the zip file. Play your tune, open the application and then press any keyboard key on the beat. It only takes a few seconds to get the average beat.

There are also many software packages available that are able to scan music files and automatically measure the beat. I like the manual option.

Choosing an MP3 player
I prefer a unit with a small screen. Before I upload from my computer to the unit, I rename all my music files with the beat first and then the song name and [not always] artist - 88bpm Fat Bottomed Girls Queen.mp3. And because the number comes first, the songs are listed in beat order. You have to make this name change within the file properties, not just by renaming the file. Right-click on the song, select 'Properties'. Change the song 'Title' under the 'Summary' tab.

I start off at my [current] natural cadence (86bpm) and then increasing with each song. I'm fairly comfortable up to about 92bpm. I find it difficult to keep the cadence at 98bpm. But it is fun trying! Cadence training is great on a treadmill because you can keep the speed constant and increase cadence; an interesting exercise, especially as your cadence increases. Then I just increase the treadmill speed too.

You'll probably need to get a new pair of earphones; the ones that usually come with MP3 players will slide out of your ears once you start sweating. Look for sport-specific earphones; I like the ones with the hook that goes around your ear, like a hearing aid.

Choosing music
You'll be disappointed to hear that many of your favourite tunes are just not at the right beat. In fact, it is really hard to find music at the right beat. Those fast rock 'n roll tunes - too slow, most are around 140bpm. That goes for a lot of pop music (dance music included), which will be between 120 - 165 bpm).

I've scanned dozens and dozens of CDs borrowed from friends. You're lucky if you get one song off a CD! For the most part I like music I can sing along to (in my head; not aloud!) as opposed to doof-doof-doof tracks. has lists of beat-counted songs. Their lists have really grow since last year.

Remember you can run with each step on the beat or with the same foot landing on the beat.

For your reference, my beat-counted tracks thus far include the following (a rather odd assortment; but the beat works). My favourite high-speed running tracks are Help! (Beatles) and Feel (Robbie Williams).

Please scan through your music and let me know if you find any good ones in the upper 80's and low- to mid 90s.
  • 86 bpm Johnny Clegg - The Crossing
  • 87 bpm Joe Cocker - You can leave your hat on
  • 87 bpm Rock Around The Clock
  • 87 bpm Yellow - Coldplay
  • 88 bpm Live - Run To The Water
  • 88 bpm Queen - Fat Bottomed Girls
  • 90 bpm Elvis - Heartbreak Hotel
  • 90 bpm I love Rock 'n Roll - Britney
  • 90 bpm Live - I Alone
  • 92 bpm George Michael - Freedom
  • 92 bpm Everly Brothers - Wake Up Little Suzie
  • 95 bpm Beatles - Help!
  • 95 bpm Elvis - Blue Suede Shoes
  • 95 bpm Long Tall Sally - Little Richard
  • 95 bpm Sheryl Crow - If It Makes You Happy
  • 96 bpm George Michael - Faith
  • 96 bpm Michelle Branch - All You Wanted
  • 96 bpm Missy Higgins - 100 Round The Bends
  • 96 bpm Overprotected - Britney
  • 96 bpm This Ole House - Shakin' Stevens
  • 96 bpm Torn - Natalie Imbruglia
  • 97 bpm Hard Headed Woman - Elvis
  • 97 bpm Lynard Skynard - Sweet Home Alabama
  • 97 bpm You can't hurry love - Diana Ross
  • 98 bpm Feel - Robbie Williams
  • 98 bpm Snow - Informer
  • 101 bpm Mother's Little Helper - Rolling Stones
  • 101 bpm REM - It's The End Of The World

Happy running.

Wake Up! My three minute alarm strategy

I've never been good at waking up in the morning; and as a night-owl it doesn't help that I seldom go to sleep before midnight. I'm also able to sleep for eight hours (or nine, or ten), get up, make a cup of tea, go back to bed, fall alseep within five minutes and wake up two hours later. Yes, enviable talent ;)

This why I usually set multiple alarms; and thus the evolution of my most recent strategy.

A second, back-up alarm set five minutes after the first gives me enough time to fall into another deep sleep, so waking up to the second alarm is as much a shock to my system as the first.

A three minute interval works much more effectively; it's enough time to enjoy a dash more slumber but not enough to be comatose again.

If you have to be up especially early for work or a race, set alarms (two or three of them) at three minute intervals. You may notice a significant difference in terms of the ease of waking up.

Sunday 9 November 2008

SA teams go global

In late-September Jeremy Green and Philippe van der Leeuw went to Canada for the pairs adventure race, Coast Raid. They placed 3rd and initiated the start of a global onslaught; we have more South African teams travelling abroad in this last quarter of 2008 than ever before!

McCain Adventure Addicts (Tweet, Tatum, Andre and Hanno) have just completed the Adventure Racing World Championships hosted by EcoMotion in Brazil. They placed a proud 8th, putting their feet firmly in the Top 10 in a major international event.

Team Kinetic/USN (Heidi, Stephan, Donovan and Rodwell) leave next week for the 4th edition of Australia's XPD Expedition Adventue Race. This is a 800km race through the Australian High Country and it will "see teams taking in some of Australia's highest mountains; white water paddling on turbulent rivers fed by melting winter snow; navigating through alpine forests of snowgum and tall sub-alpine mountain gums and visiting historic gold rush towns". They're racing as Team Bull of Africa. The race takes place from the 17-28 November 2008.

Next to go will be Team uge.Cyanosis. They're heading for XPD Portugal. They went last year; Nicholas went but didn't race as he was injured. This is a rogaine-style adventure race and Nicholas has been itching to go - the nagivation and strategic elements are right up his alley. He'll be racing with Clinton, Debbie and Ryan. The race runs from 20 November - 4 December 2008.

And then Team (Lisa, Lauren, Garth and Christiaan) head for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge in the Emirates. This is a semi-staged event; a format quite different to the others. Most stages are single discipline and they range from sprint to ultra distance. The most daunting stages are the paddling (40km + 85km over 1.5 days) and desert trekking (110km, time limited to 30hrs) sections. The race runs over 6-days from 12-18 December 2008.

The experiences these teams gain abroad will boost the level of competition here at home. It's fabulous!